One of my fondest memories of video games was during Metal Gear Solid 4. Me and a friend sat back as I guided Snake through his journey and we enjoyed the narrative unfold before us. We became so engrossed that we finished the entire thing in one sitting. Admittedly the birds were singing and the next day wasn’t exactly high energy but we didn’t care at all. It’s one of those amazing moments of gaming that I’ll never forget. So on top of the impossibly high expectations we all have for MGS I have deep personal expectations too. A tough act to follow indeed.
MGSV wastes no time at all wading knee deep into setting the scene and throwing some huge new concepts at us. First, for those of you who enjoy living under rocks, MGSV is a totally open world experience. Moving from the rigid structure and strong narrative from pretty much all previous MGS’s to an intentional lack of structure is a bold move to say the least. Sure we all love open worlds but it’s difficult to match the focus and pacing of a structured title. Less than a couple of hours in any concerns I had were completely dismissed. There are so few games that can tell a really compelling narrative in my opinion and one of my favourite ways to enjoy games is to sit back and totally immerse into a story. MGSV does something that even fewer games can do for me and lets me totally forget any story and instead immerse myself as a character making my own story.
The main structure of MGSV takes the form of a list of objectives that include taking out armoured units, extracting key targets or translators so you can understand enemy radio conversations or rescuing prisoners. Once you get enough unlocked you will be able to deploy to an objective and create your own mental ‘mission playlist’ completing tasks in turn. It’s not quite a plot but it does lend itself to emergent experiences allowing you to create your own mini stories to enjoy. It’s Metal Gears job to provide you with the tools you need to have fun rather than directly supply the fun.
And oh boy does Metal Gear supply the tools. I know it’s a bit of a fall back statement but there is just too much to describe. You have a fully fledged Mother Base together with upgrades, that will take tens of hours to earn, and an entire roster of vehicles and staff. From which you can take the fully upgradable and customizable chopper to your chosen area of operations at a selected landing zone. You then chose your fully customizable loadout including outfit, weapons, equipment, vehicles and even your buddy who can accompany you, if you so chose. You can then accept any missions you like on the ground, or just explore without missions, and complete the tasks however you want.
Or if you like you can take the chopper in close, after taking out the anti-air installation, and man the side mounted mini-gun to take out enemies before dropping of the side into a relatively clear, and alerted, landing zone. Or sneak in and call the chopper in later to provide support. Or call artillery strikes in, depending on the level of your support staff. Or wait for a weather effect like a sand storm to help you sneak in. Or to hell with it all and just drive around in a main battle tank. At this point my head explodes and I lay overwhelmed next to an enormously overused Dualshock 4.
Believe me when I say this barely covers your options in MGSV. It is galactically diverse. Even in the likes of GTA and other open world classics I don’t feel the same level of freedom to complete objectives and to see it in a Metal Gear title just makes everything a little more cool. Running towards the chopper that you called in with a wounded prisoner draped over your shoulders as gunfire crackles around you is only so satisfying because every second you realise this isn’t set up or scripted or even slightly rigged; it just happened this way, this time. I’ve never seen anything like it before and it makes every second of MGSV a joy to play.
It has to be said that the plot has taken a back seat. The ability to tell a story has been one of Metal Gear’s biggest assets before and is clearly less prominent in MGSV. Still when a cutscene starts you sit down and experience the usual excessive slow motion, overly elaborate combat and more one liners than The Expendables trilogy combined. It’s still Metal Gear and hasn’t forgotten its roots.
The surprising thing for me is the fact I didn’t care that I didn’t care. I’ll admit that during some of the scenes I switched off a little and my mind drifted to the research projects that might have completed and what missions I would be doing next. I normally hate to see story take second place in a franchise that has made such an impression (yes I mean you Assassin’s Creed) but taking the chopper out and stealthing my way through a huge base soon let me forget.
A surprising foundation of the free roaming adventure is the Fulton extraction system. Based on a real system it gives you the ability to attach a balloon to an object and have it float into the sky to be collected by your chopper which has a collection arm attached to the front. This means that as you peruse a defeated enemy camp you can basically help yourself to any gun emplacements, soldiers, shipping containers or vehicles for use in your own cause. What starts as a bit of a laugh, extracting sheep is worth a giggle and the surprised look on a bear’s face when he gets yanked off into the sky is comedy gold. But further into the game when your Mother Base is developing and everything is moving along nicely you realise you’re not laughing anymore and the Fulton extraction has become a key feature of MGS’s ability to provide a free roam experience.
Everything in MGSV revolves around money. It costs you to do anything and while money is never going to break your game you will have to prioritise. If you want the fastest chopper then you’ll be paying a lot for the privilege. And when you just need a relaxed pickup you’ll be wasting that extra money. Might be worth paying for though because that time when you need support quickly you’re very glad you paid extra. Taking better weapons and equipment gets expensive too and you will unlikely be taking any equipment that you don’t use along with you. But when you need to blow something up and didn’t equip explosives you pay extra to call in a supply drop, or an artillery strike. But no refunds for taking spares back to base. It makes for a thoughtful approach to loadouts that doesn’t revolve around researching the best and taking as much of it with you as possible. Once you unlock weapon customization there’s a lot to be said for attaching high grade parts to a low tier gun which massively reduces deployment costs. There are various approaches and it’s refreshingly up to you entirely to decide how to approach the problem.
Around half way through the main missions you will unlock what could become MGSV’s party piece, the online FOB (forward operating base) mode. You will be provided with what is essentially a second Mother Base which can be invaded by other players online. It’s your job to decide how much to invest in security and if you answer the call when it comes to stop what you’re doing, redeploy and defend your FOB yourself. It’s odd to unlock something so far into a game but there’s just so much to unlock that you barely ever stop up to this point. As with every other feature the FOB’s are in no way an afterthought or lacking in detail. They’re every bit as integral as all the other features.
You also have the ability to prioritise around 8 different sectors, per deck, per platform for your staff to guard. Or you can just assign them using an automated system. You also have the ability to test your own FOB you can spend a long time infiltrating and making sure it’s as difficult as possible for enemy players. They too can be every bit as upgraded as your main Mother Base so provide necessary expansion for the offline game. You can even purchase more bases if you want and at around £8 each they’re not unreasonably priced. They add a lot of function and extra bases are completely unneeded to enjoy the game in full. It’s not a pay wall and will really only appeal to late game players looking to go online.
Visuals and audio set a new level, especially for consoles. The audio really strikes the perfect balance between knowing when to shut up and let the quiet atmosphere take over and when to pipe up with a bass driven, heart-beat-like escape riff. Weapons sounds are unique and identifiable with long range gunfire making a realistic crack that acknowledges their range. But environments are something to behold. This is far and away the best looking thing I’ve seen on the PS4. It reminds me that consoles are still there and given some talent and budget something like this can be achieved. It sets the standard high for every other game going forward. It’s the first time I’ve truly felt like I’m playing something from this generation.
It’s also difficult not to notice Hideo Kojima’s artful direction especially during cutscenes. Some of the ‘camera’ angles put Hollywood to shame. In fact the overall presentation is really perfect throughout. No frame slow down or jumps. The clean menus and HUD. Even the familiar noises and clicks selecting a weapon makes. Nothing is accidental and nothing is unnoticed. It’s a shame to see you go Mr Kojima but know that you have left us with a masterpiece and future legend of gaming.
There’s nothing I can say to put Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain down. It has so much to offer that even after 60 hours of gameplay I haven’t anywhere near finished. I’m dragging my heels as much as possible to make it last because I just don’t want it to end. Everything you do brings a smile to your face in a way not many other games ever have. Undoubtedly this will be taking home shelves of awards in 2015 and beyond and it deserves every accolade it collects. MGSV has taken over as me new favourite game, and it’s the first time that’s happened this generation.